A hungry American in Italy

I simply want to live in the place with the best food in the world.
This is the first line in Eric Dregni’s forthcoming book, Never Trust a Thin Cook and Other Lessons from Italy’s Culinary Capital. While Dregni did accomplish this dream, his experiences were indeed anything but simple.
Dregni had convinced his then-girlfriend, Katy, that the two should quit their jobs and live abroad for a few years. They wound up in the small fog-covered town of Modena, Italy, she as an English teacher and he as a part-time columnist for a local weekly paper.

Says Dregni: About half of these (segments in the book) appeared in a different form, actually in Italian, in my weekly column for Modena e Modena. The Modenesi seemed curious why an American would settle down in their town for three years. They wanted to know how I viewed their town, their habits, and of course, their food. My editor, Roberto, let me have free reign to explore the area and write whatever I wanted. He’d call me up late at night or first thing in the morning and tell me to meet him at the office. Often, he wouldn’t tell me why—which wasn’t easy to explain to Katy—and he’d bring me to his mysterious destination: a prosciutto factory, a casino in Slovenia, a parmesan factory, an architect’s straw house, etc.

I have a whole list of titles that I weighed for awhile. I considered most of the (book’s chapter titles), especially “Lessons from Guido.” When I told friends about this title, though, they assumed it was an Italian-American “wise guy” book. If only Guido had been named Luigi, it might have made it. Here were a few others:

-Vicolo Forni
-Handy with a Fork
-Cooking with La Nonna
-Pet Pigs, Cheese Thieves, and Porn Stars

I originally wrote this book to be much, much longer. In fact, it included all my Italian experiences from when I was an exchange student in high school to the present. (I hope to finish up writing about the earlier Italian experiences in another book someday.)

Here’s a section that didn’t make it into the final manuscript, on a day visit to a vineyard of Lambrusco and Trebbiano wines outside of Modena:

The “real” Lambrusco isn’t the headache-inducing Giacobazzi garbage, but is dry, fizzy, and delicious. Three main regions produce Lambrusco: Sorbara, Salamina, and Grasparossa.

The bus dropped Katy and me off on the foggy fields of the Po valley, and we waded through the mud to a medieval farm surrounded by an old stuccoed wall with lizards darting to and fro. I had called ahead, but the people at the farm were still skeptical of our intentions. Even so, they sat us down and fed us and filled us full of their great wine. Times were tough, but they gave us samples to bring back to the Twin Cities to see if they could export the wine. This was organic (biologico, in Italian) wine that was only about $2 a bottle and fantastic. Both the fizzy white and red (Lambrusco) were light on alcohol and perfect for summer, as an apertivo, or with a heavy zampone supper. The Wine Company and others told us that the American market wouldn’t accept Lambrusco after the damage done by Giacobazzi’s “Lambrusco Cola.”

A book launch event for Never Trust a Thin Cook is set for 2 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 13th, at the Varsity Theater in Minneapolis. There will be free appetizers (from Loring Pasta Bar), a slide show presentation and a book signing. This event, sponsored by the Italian Cultural Center and the Concordia Language Villages on behalf of Lago del Bosco, is open to the public.

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